What Was Blocking Me: A Tuesday Post of Accountability

Hello Tuesday. Time to be held accountable!

Last week and the week before I lamented my lack of progress. This week I’ve figured out what the problem was, and I think I’m kind-of recovering.

It took agent Rachelle Gardner’s post on money and writing to talk me down from the thought process that was freezing me. That process? Namely: worrying about money and pinning too much hope for the future on publishing the writing.

Since Gardner posted about this, I’m assuming it’s a subject that’s come up more than once. Meaning I’m not alone in the dreaming department.

Like so many others right now, my family is not rich – in fact, we’re that bit of the middle class that is just barely scraping by. Both my husband and I have college degrees (he has two). My husband worked in real estate and loans right as that whole mess exploded. We lost our house and had to move back in with parents. Now we rent from those same parents, but at least we have a place that’s pretty stable.

I worked (sometimes two jobs) while my husband got his Masters and his teaching certificate – because a career change seemed in order after all that other stuff. Now he’s teaching at one of the best schools in the state and we’re more secure. Secure enough that I stay home with the kids, partly to not pay for the ungodly costs of daycare, partly because I really want to be there for my kids, and partly because I want to focus on my writing. But there are student loans coming due and we’re already in a place where we can afford the monthly cost of living – but heaven help us if anyone gets sick, or a car breaks down.

Our situation isn’t unique. As a matter of fact, I believe our situation pretty typical – and certainly better than a ton of other families.

And in this economic climate it’s hard not to put more on the writing dream than the dream is capable of sustaining.

Writers have heard the stories: Stephen King typing away in a corner, J.K. Rowling walking her sleeping baby to the corner coffee house while she was on assistance. Stephenie Meyer’s endless home runs on the way to publication: a dream, writing the book, landing the perfect agent for her project, and the rest is history. So is it such a leap that, when we’re debating whether we pay for food or utilities this week, we dream about hitting that payday for something we love doing?

It’s difficult to remember that these writers are exceptions to the rule. Sure, they controlled the things they could control: the writing. But that doesn’t make their fantastic real-life stories any less fantastic.

Generally, I manage to keep that kind of money-worry stuff on the backburner, but somehow it took over this month.

My thought process was “Just finish this book. Send it out. Sooner you send it out, the sooner you’ll get paid.” And I thought I was being modest: “Just enough to get a good savings account going” or “Just enough to pay off one or two of the student loans” or “Just enough to cover the kids’ extracurriculars/preschool.”

Finish it, finish it, finish it. Send it, send it, send it.

Of course, what I did was put too much pressure on the piece of life that’s supposed to be special. And I stopped writing entirely by the time I hit this week.

Then there was a vicious cycle: With no outlet (writing) to deal with the stressors that I was trying to eliminate/reduce via writing, I panicked about writing and put even more pressure on it. Which meant I couldn’t write anything. Which made me panic even more: “I’ve got to! I’ve got to!” Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

Normally, I manage to hold it pretty together. Not so this past week. By the time Mother’s Day rolled around I was a wreck.

Sometimes the world hands us what we need, and Rachelle Gardner’s post was a call back to reality. It talked me down. Gotta be talked down sometimes. And, judging from the amount of comments, I’m not alone. That kinda helps. I’m working on pulling it back together.

I just really needed to hear that what I was doing was okay. And if you need to hear that too:

What you’re doing is okay. No, what you’re doing is great – keep doing it.  

Writing the Windblown, Schizophrenic World

I came across this fascinating book called Windblown World: The Journals of Jack Kerouac 1947-1954 — which covers the period of time when he wrote his first novel The Town and the City and his second On the Road.

Basically, it’s a log of his word counts, which are insanely high (but we talked before about how much he writes) and his emotions as he writes. Check this out:

This thought, concerning the change in my writing which now seems so important, came –: that it was not lack of creation that stopped me before, but an excess of it, a thickening of the narrative stream so that it could not flow. Yet tonight I’m really worried about my work. First is it good now? — and will the world recognize it as such. The world isn’t so dumb after all; I realize that from reading some of my unfinished or unsold novels: they are just no good. I will eventually arrive at a simplicity and a beauty that won’t be denied — simplicity; morality; and a beauty, a real lyricism. But the now, the now. It’s getting serious. How do I know if I’m reaching mastery?”~Kerouac, entry dated November 10

I know, right? If he writes this way in his journal, obsessing about the beauty of words and worrying about mastery…well, he was probably gonna accomplish something, right? There are pages of this stuff in this book. Kerouac goes through the writerly schizophrenia that’s in all of us writers.

I’m a master!
I suck.
I’m the greatest that’s ever lived!
How will I ever measure up to Dostoyevski?

At this very moment I’m trying to keep my schizophrenic self from wondering if I’ll ever be any good because Kerouac wrote gorgeous stuff in his journals and mine read more like this (back in March, during P.G. Wodehouse’s mentorship):

Speaking of…the thought process for these last two weeks was to fill the old bean with stories and movies (visual stories) but I’m avoiding writing I think. Spending way too much time online and not enough on The Line. I think I’m scared. No. I am scared. This is a big deal idea that I’m super-proud to have come up with. But instead of being excited to drive forward, I am stressed about whether I’ll make it work. I’m worried that I’m not good enough. yeah, it’s not success I’m worried about. I’m worried that I finish this book and it’ll have something so wrong in its make-up that I’ll have to totally re-do it all. I’m going to try to revise every 100 pages or so to try to set the writing stronger. I’d really like to do some short stories too. Yi.” ~Me, undated entry

Yes, I’m comparing my journaling to Kerouac’s and worrying about whether or not it’s good enough. Talk about schizo.

I think the fear comes, no matter how hard we working, because we wonder if we’re good enough, if anyone will ever notice, and whether the work is worth noticing at all. It’s something we all have to work through, even Kerouac.

(Or maybe that’s just my fear and you guys are all fine and dandy.)

The answer is the same regardless of whether your fearful or not: write and find out what happens.